Thyme is an extremely fragrant herb with thin, woody stems and small, pungent leaves. Available in both fresh or dried, this herb is easily found in most supermarkets year-round. It has been a staple in southern European and Mediterranean cuisines for centuries.
Thyme pairs well with meat, tomatoes, and beans. It is the main ingredient in the classic French herb combinations Boquet Garni and Herbes de Province. These herb blends are frequently used to flavor meat, stews, and soups. In Mediterranean cuisine, thyme is a popular seasoning for lamb dishes as the slightly floral flavor of thyme lightens the sometimes gamy taste of lamb. Za'atar, a popular herb blend in Mediterranean cuisine, features thyme as the main ingredient. Thyme is also used to flavor cheeses, lentils, and even tea.
Since thyme pairs so well with eggs, tomatoes, and cheese, it makes an excellent addition to omelets and egg strata. This herb is also an ideal seasoning for poultry; it can be found in a poultry seasoning blends as well as recipes for stuffing.
Whether you are using fresh or dried thyme will determine the amount used as dried herbs are much more potent than fresh.
Cooking With Fresh Thyme
Fresh thyme can be added to a recipe whole with the stem, or the leaves can be removed from the stem and then sprinkled into a dish. If a recipe calls for a "sprig" of thyme, the leaves and stem should be kept intact. When adding a whole sprig of thyme to soups, stews, or other recipes, the leaves usually fall off during cooking and the woody stem can be removed prior to serving.
If a recipe calls for "fresh thyme," the leaves need to be pulled off of the stem. To remove the leaves from a sprig of fresh thyme, simply hold the sprig at the top with one hand, pinch the sprig at the top with the other hand, and then slide those fingers down the stem, which will pull off the leaves as you go. The leaves will detach easily. Fresh thyme leaves are so small that they usually require no chopping. The exception to stripping the leaves from the stem is when the stem is young and flexible and it may be too difficult to remove the leaves. In this case, it is perfectly fine to chop the entire sprig and add it to the recipe.
Unlike many other types of fresh herbs, fresh thyme can be added early on in the recipe. The herb withstands and benefits from long cooking times, and will slowly infuse its flavor into the dish.
Cooking With Dried Thyme
Dried thyme retains much of the flavor of fresh thyme and is a suitable substitution for fresh in many cases. When substituting dried thyme for fresh, however, use roughly one-third of the volume of fresh thyme called for in the recipe as the flavor of dried thyme is much stronger than fresh. As with most dried herbs, it should be added toward the beginning of the recipe.
Buying and Storing Thyme
Fresh and dried thyme are sold and stored differently. Fresh thyme can often be purchased by the bunch or a group of sprigs that are packaged in a plastic clamshell container. The fresh sprigs hold up well with refrigeration and should be wrapped lightly in plastic or kept in the original plastic clamshell container. When stored properly, fresh thyme will retain freshness and flavor for one to two weeks.
Dried thyme can be found in most major supermarkets year-round. Store dried thyme in an air-tight container, away from heat and light. When stored properly, dried thyme should retain flavor and potency for up to one year.